Pitt made several personnel moves for Saturday's game against Florida International. The most publicized adjustment was the shifting of Lucas Nix from right tackle to right guard and the promotion of Jordan Gibbs from backup to starting right tackle.
That move had positive outcomes - Pitt rushed for 300 yards as a team - but another personnel adjustment appeared to work pretty well, too. Senior Dom DeCicco moved from strong safety into the middle of the defense and finished with five solo tackles.
DeCicco essentially lined up as a weak-side linebacker who split out into coverage when FIU went into multiple-receiver sets. Head coach Dave Wannstedt said after the game that the coaching staff referred to DeCicco as a nickel-back but his assignments and responsibilities resembled a weak-side linebacker on a number of occasions.
At his weekly press conference on Monday, Wannstedt elaborated on DeCicco's role and what it will be for the rest of the season.
"Is it a nickel position? Is it a linebacker position? It depends on the personnel that you're trying to defend. When you're defending three and four wide receivers, he really was lined up as a nickel-back, and that's what the (position) move is. If we were playing a team like ourselves with two backs and a power running team, we'd probably put him back at safety and play Tristan Roberts (at weak-side linebacker)."
Most of the teams Pitt will face this season run spread offenses, so DeCicco will likely continue to play the hybrid nickel-back/weak-side linebacker role. Redshirt freshman Jason Hendricks started in DeCicco's place on Saturday and made six tackles.
The other move
The DeCicco move produced numbers - 12 total tackles from DeCicco and Hendricks, the two affected parties - but there's no denying that the Nix/Gibbs adjustment on the offensive line created some positive outcomes as well. Wannstedt said Monday that he liked what we saw.
"Even though it's just one game, I think it's going to be a good move for us as we progress down the road, week after week."
Gibbs and Nix each recorded career firsts: Gibbs made his first career start, while Nix made his first career start at right guard.
"I thought [Gibbs] did a good job," Wannstedt said. "From an assignment standpoint, I thought he did pretty good. He's a big man out there, and with some of the plays and the things that we're doing from a run standpoint, he brings some consistency to our offensive line.
"The guy that really had the biggest transition was Lucas, going from tackle to guard, which he's never played. I was very encouraged, for his first game. He was the one that had to make the biggest adjustment, and I thought as the game went on, he got more comfortable."
Updates on Romeus and Mason
Two starters from the preseason two-deep have had to undergo surgery before the fourth game of the season. Redshirt senior defensive end Greg Romeus had surgery on his back, while sophomore linebacker Dan Mason had surgery to repair a dislocated knee that he suffered in the Miami game.
Wannstedt updated the progress of Romeus and Mason on Monday.
"[Romeus] will start his rehab program [on Tuesday], and then it will just be week-to-week as quick as we can get him back. But up to this point, everything is right where it needs to be from a healing standpoint and a him-feeling-good standpoint. Now it's just a matter of getting his strength back.
"Dan Mason had his surgery on Friday and he went home on Sunday from the hospital. The surgery was successful. We'll see where it goes from there."
Players of the Week
Pitt players earned some honors from the conference this week. Sophomore running back Ray Graham was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 277 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries against FIU, while redshirt senior punter/kicker Dan Hutchins was named Big East Special Teams Player of the Week. Hutchins went three-for-three on field goals against FIU and also dropped a coffin corner punt at the FIU 2.
"We're always excited anytime any of our individual players receive recognition," Wannstedt said "It's always good for the team, the program. I think both of those guys deserve it, and it's a great honor."
The Irish Bearcats?
This week's opponent is a non-conference foe, but there will be a familiar face on the sidelines. Brian Kelly took over as Notre Dame's head coach this season after leading Cincinnati to a 34-6 record over three-plus seasons. In his final game as a head coach in the Big East, Kelly and the Bearcats beat Wannstedt and Pitt 45-44 at Heinz Field last December.
Kelly held a 2-1 record against Wannstedt while both coached in the Big East, and Pitt's head coach said Monday to watch for more of the same.
At least, watch for more of the same plays, if not the same results.
"Both coordinators went with him, so schematically there's a lot of carry-over," Wannstedt said.
Playing in South Bend
Saturday's game will be Pitt's 30th trip to South Bend, where the Panthers are 10-19 all-time. Pitt has won in each of its last two trips to Notre Dame Stadium, one of the more treasured venues in all of college football.
"I think it's a great place to play," Wannstedt said. "If you ask our players who have played up there, I think it's a place they look forward to going. You always like playing at home more than on the road, but if you're going to go on the road and play a game and get caught up in the atmosphere and the tradition and everything that goes into a great college football game, Notre Dame's a great place to go play. Our kids will be excited about going up there.
Syracuse game time
Pitt's road game at Syracuse on October 16th will kick off at noon (EST) and be televised as the Big East Network Game of the Week. It will be televised locally on WTAE-TV (channel 4). Following the Syracuse game, only one of Pitt's final six games currently has an announced start time. The November 11th Thursday-night game at Connecticut will kick off at 7:30 p.m. (EST).
Quote of the day
"We still haven't played close to what we're capable of playing. From an X and O standpoint, we know what we have to do, but we need to clean up some of the other things, whether it's the penalties or the turnovers or some of the foolish little mistakes that pile up and all of a sudden become big at the end of the day." - Dave Wannstedt